Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States and, as a result, the need for physicians specializing in palliative and hospice care is significant. Illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease, kidney failure, Parkinson’s, and ALS affect more than 40% of Americans. While hospice care and palliative care share similarities – in particular pain management – hospice care is reserved for patients with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live. Palliative care, on the other hand, aims to improve the quality of life for patients who are living with a serious illness on an ongoing basis. Beyond recommending treatment to help alleviate pain and other physical symptoms, palliative care physicians also provide holistic support for patients and their families.
Addressing the Looming Need
Formally recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in 2006, the Hospice and Palliative Medicine (HPM) specialty is relatively new. Currently there are 325 fellows in training annually. However, to keep up with expected demand, in particular the future needs of the Baby Boomer generation, that number must increase to 500–600 fellows per year over the next twelve years. Schools, healthcare organizations, and recruiters need to be aware of and champion this specialty – and attract physicians who will excel in it – now.
It is essential that schools focus on increasing the number of physicians who are aware of and choose to specialize in palliative care at the start of their careers. Many medical students are unaware of the existence or importance of this specialty. But those who have practical exposure to hospice and palliative care glean valuable lessons about life, death, and healing that can’t be taught in the classroom.
In addition, healthcare organizations must implement focused recruitment efforts to attract palliative and hospice care specialists. It’s no longer enough to have physicians on staff who are willing to work in these sensitive scenarios. Patients require care from providers with a true HPM mindset.
Characteristics of Effective HPM Physicians
In recent classes of HPM fellows, the majority had prior experience in primary care specialties, particularly internal medicine and family medicine. Primary care, family medicine, and HPM physicians have much in common, including an increased focus on considering mental, emotional, and social factors affecting a patient’s health, as well as substantive knowledge of symptoms and treatments for a wide variety of illnesses.
In addition to wide-ranging expertise, the best hospice and palliative care physicians have the mindset of a team player and are willing to collaborate with the broad spectrum of caregivers involved in a patient’s care. Additionally, the patients themselves can be challenging. Beyond difficult physical symptoms, there might also be complications of mental illness, complex family dynamics, or damaging coping mechanisms at play. The best HPM physicians are authentic, highly perceptive individuals who are able to build strong relationships with their patients and act as compassionate advocates for them.
The need for more providers focused on hospice and palliative care is already imminent, and this trend will only continue to increase. Is your organization prepared to meet the demand? At Jordan Search Consultants, we focus on finding the best candidates for the needs of your organization both now and into the future.